Appleton Oaksmith was one of the most colorful characters of mainland Carteret County. Before the Civil War, Appleton ventured into the shipping business, eventually purchasing several ships of his own. He had also, however, involved himself in the filibustering campaigns of General Walker in Nicaragua, actually accepting the office of secretary in Walker’s new “government” and helping arrange for the supply of Walker’s small military force. When Walker’s bid for U.S. recognition failed and his militia was ousted from the country, there is mounting evidence that Appleton began to employ his ships in support of the Confederate states, at least in gun-running if not by allowing his ships to be used in the transport of slaves. In December 1861, Appleton was captured on Fire Island, New York and indicted for equipping a slave ship. With Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus in effect, he was quickly jailed, and was convicted in June 1862 of slave trading. He escaped from the jail in Suffolk County, New York on September 11, 1862, and fled to England. His imprisonment placed the entire family in a compromised political and social position, but they vehemently maintained Appleton’s innocence.
His mother Elizabeth would spend years seeking audiences with government officials in New York and finally with the President of the United States to procure her son’s innocence. He spent years in exile in London.
On his return to the U.S. after his pardon, his vision for east Bogue Banks was that of a new resort by the sea. He first chose Fort Macon, but was unsuccessful. He then turned his attention to the area which now comprises all of Atlantic Beach and a portion of east Pine Knoll Shores. He soon acquired title to all of this property in the names of two straw ladies, his wife, Augusta, and her sister, Ellen Mason. He was a representative of Carteret County in the North Carolina General Assembly in 1874.
With his first wife, Isotta Rebecchini, Oaksmith had 4 children,:
- Buchanan Oaksmith (died in infancy)
- Elizabeth (Bessie) Oaksmith 1858–1879
- Corrine Oaksmith 1860-1879
- Peyton "Randolph" Oaksmith.
After divorcing him Isotta tried repeatedly to recover custody of their children.
With his second wife, Augusta Mason, Appleton had 8 additional children:
- Theodora (1879–1960)
- Geraldine (1884–1965)
- Vincent (1882–1951)
- Eleanor (died in infancy)
- Mildred (1870–1879)
- Pauline (1872–1879)
- Katherine (died in infancy)
- Stanley (1880–1938)
Bessie, Corrine, Mildred, and Pauline all drowned on 4 July 1879 when the family's boat capsized. Only Appleton and his sons Randolph and Stanley survived the accident. It was rumored, though never proven, that Appleton murdered his daughters by drowning them.
Appleton Oaksmith Papers *